On April 22 2016, the Assad regime in Syria, and its Russian military allies, broke a negotiated ceasefire by unleashing a bombing campaign against opposition-held areas of the country’s second city, Aleppo. The embattled government claimed to be targeting Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat an-Nusra, which has had varying levels of influence in the city over the past four years of war. However, there is little evidence that the Islamist group holds much sway in Aleppo now. Instead, those districts still outside government control have been being run by a combination of Local Coordination Committees, the Free Syrian Army, and aid workers from impartial organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières.
This campaign, which has seen the Assad regime continue its use of internationally prohibited barrel bombs, has caused utter devastation and cost hundreds of lives. Over 200 airstrikes have been carried out. Any claims that this is a legitimate counter-terror operation are surely undermined by the destruction of the Al-Quds Hospital and the consequent death of Aleppo’s last remaining paediatrician. This was followed on May 3 by the bombing of a maternity hospital. This is clearly a civilian population guilty of nothing more than living in a city which has tried to reject Assad’s dictatorial rule, and their punishment from the regime and its Russian allies has been simply barbaric. In this context, the fact that rebel-held areas have responded with their own shell attacks on districts controlled by Assad’s government is quite understandable. When the government announced another ceasefire on Friday April 29, Aleppo was quite deliberately excluded – due to its strategic value as the closest major city to the Turkish border, and the strength of its population’s resistance. If the regime can take Aleppo, its ability to cling to power in the war-torn country will be significantly enhanced, but the only way it could ever regain control of the city is through violence.
This is a civilian population guilty of nothing more than living in a city which has tried to reject Assad’s dictatorial rule, and their punishment has been simply barbaric
Understandably, people who have been following the Syrian conflict closely are pretty furious about all this. Here in Britain, our government and political parties have been too caught up in petty infighting even to mention the tragedy playing out in Aleppo, and the mainstream media has allowed itself to be distracted by their incompetence. When I complain about this, it’s not just because it’s unfair that, when Europeans are killed, the public is given days of mass journalistic mourning, while when Middle Easterners and other non-Europeans die we’re given a brief list of statistics at the bottom of the website. When humanitarian crises like the massacres which have been taking place in Syria for every day for four years are ignored, there is less incentive for our elected representatives to try and stop them or hold those responsible to account. In light of this, supporters of the Syrian fight against Bashar al Assad and his wicked cronies (among whom I include ISIS, following the publication of testimonies by defectors from the group) have launched a campaign to “turn Facebook red”, to reflect the sheer scale of the bloodshed there. This has been accompanied by the hashtag “Aleppo is Burning”, which began its life in Arabic and has since been translated by sympathetic internet users around the world.
On top of this, disgust at the Assad regime’s horrific assault on Aleppo has inspired protests and marches across the world. Here in the UK, people gathered to condemn the violence against civilians in Dublin, Edinburgh and London, while the political group Sisters Against the Arms Trade raised the issue while demonstrating at a Bedfordshire arms factory. People of all faith groups and political persuasions also came out in solidarity with the residents of Aleppo in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, the USA, and Yemen. Among the most touching shows of support came from refugees, Syrian and non-Syrian alike, currently living in camps in Greece and Algeria.
Disgust at the Assad regime’s horrific assault on Aleppo has inspired protests and marches across the world
Syria may have suffered four harsh years of fighting, but the sense of national unity and solidarity which contributed to the 2011 uprisings has not been stamped out. People from the south-western city of Deraa filmed themselves holding signs and singing a mournful yet defiant song – “Oh Aleppo, Oh Aleppo, Deraa is with you until death”. It was a chilling watch. As-Suweyda, Damascus , Efrin, Ghouta, Homs, Kafranbel, Madaya, Yarmouk, and Zabadani also hosted demonstrations of solidarity with their besieged countrymen and women. In Hama, the central prison was liberated from government control on the 2nd of May, and both former prisoners and Free Syrian Army fighters filmed themselves holding up signs in support of Aleppo and in condemnation of Assad’s cruel attack on their city.